View Full Version : Legal problems and light triggers

May 25, 2002, 04:54 PM
I frequently hear people mention that you can have additional legal problems, in a self defense shooting, if your gun has light springs. Why would it matter if the gun has been tuned or has light springs installed ?

May 25, 2002, 05:31 PM
These people have been reading the writings of Maasad Ayoob. The only way a light trigger can cause you a problem in court is:

1. If you have lousey safety habits. If you rest your finger on a light trigger and the gun fires accidently injuring someone you will have legal problems.

2. You shoot someone and stupidly claim that the gun just went off. If it did happen that way you will have legal problems.

3. If you are involved in a good shoot and only shoot the person one time. The opposing council may claim the shooting was unjustified and accidental due to the light trigger pull weight. The solution is to fire the gun as least two or three times when involved in a shooting. If you shoot the guy three times it was no accident. You can then use the positive aspects of a light trigger pull during your defense to show the care you took by having the trigger lightened.

Nanaimo Barr
May 25, 2002, 09:25 PM
I've heard the same thing about using handloads for SD. if a DA wants to he will find something

"he wanted to kill so badly he made his own cop killer bullets"

"he wanted to kill so badly he bought the most powerful man stopper bullets he could find"

"he was so negligent that his gun was poorly maintianed it went off when he waved it around"

"he was so hot to kill that he had a hair trigger"

Jim March
May 25, 2002, 09:38 PM
Part of what's going on here is that if a burglar gets shot in your home, if he can claim you ACCIDENTALLY shot him he can make a claim on your homeowner's liability policy.

That's why it's common for his scum-sucking lawyers in civil court to look carefully at "hair triggers" and related BS. It matters less in criminal court, if you're being accused of wrongful shooting.

May 25, 2002, 09:45 PM
Jim March,

If you shoot a burglar in your home in Oklahoma you are well within your rights. Light him up!!!

Standing Wolf
May 25, 2002, 11:10 PM
The heaviest trigger (single action) I have holds at three pounds and breaks at three pounds, one ounce. I'm a target shooter. Anybody who doesn't like my triggers should invade somebody else's apartment.

May 25, 2002, 11:36 PM
I agree with the home brewed ammo theory. I always use factory ammo. I have light triggers. I have no magazine disconnect safeties. I will take multiple shots.

May 26, 2002, 04:59 PM
Do you know for sure that it has to be an ACCIDENTAL shooting for homeowners insurance to cover you if the bad guy sues you ?
I questioned my insurance agent about this recently, and could not get a definite answer. Have been considering purchasing the NRA Endorsed personal protection liability insurance, which does cover this.

May 26, 2002, 07:18 PM
Remember many different fronts you must fight in Problem #2!

Jim has it on the civil front depending on the terms of your policy (read the contract). Convert a SD which will be knowingly or intentionally to negligence.

K95, remember, there's can and there's SHOULD. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Just because you can doesn't mean you won't be prosecuted.

In the administrative hearing to revoke your license this will likely play out essentially the same as your civil trial (depending on your state's procedures).

Double Naught Spy
May 26, 2002, 11:07 PM
Talk about one of those gun myths that just won't die!!! Even more frightening is that I have had two instructors who were formerly police officers who passed on that sort of drivel as well.

In terms of criminal law, it does not matter if you have a light trigger, handload ammo, a gun with a mean sounding name, or where you shoot the person so long as you were legally justified in using lethal force. The liability does NOT come from any of these factors, but from carrying and discharging a gun.

Something else to consider in regard to self defense shooting, all that matters is that you win. If your best gun is called the Homicide Blaster 2002, has a light trigger, is loaded with your special mix handloaded ammo, and you decide not to carry it, then you may end up dead. You ain't going to trial if you are dead.

Notice here that nobody has mentioned a single case where the light trigger, gun's name, or handloaded ammo has ever been a key element in a criminal case. I have done numerous internet searches on these ideas and come up with zilch. In another thread sometime back, Jim Higginbotham noted that he too had looked over the years and come up with zilch as well.

As noted previously, negligent discharges may be another matter, but then again, they are not defensive shooting.

In a civil suit, anything can happen and people can file on you for all sorts of real, perceived, or fictional damages. Something else to keep in mind is that any facet can be turned around on you in a civil case. Here are a few examples:

1. If you go with the idea of using the same ammo as your local LEOs use based on the assumption that such ammo would be more lawsuit friendly as you didn't use anything extreme, that can be twisted around to depict you as an LEO wannabe who administered vigilante justice.

2. Say you have firearms training and you are a proficient shooter and this information comes out. Twisted around, it shows that you have a history of building your skills, practicing to kill people.

3. You legally carry CCW and get in an altercation of some sort and have to use your gun. Twisted around this comes out to show that you intentionally brought a gun to a hostile situation and you did so because you were planning on using it in the confrontation. You must have gotten the CCW in hopes of finding a situation in which to use the gun.

While knowing there may be potential civil and legal problems, there is no reason to fixate on what MIGHT happen to you after a shooting and you should not make your gun, ammo, trigger, etc. carry decisions based on what MIGHT happen after a fight. Fixate on putting your life first and carry the gun, ammo, trigger pull, etc. that works best for you. To do anything else would be to cheap yourself out of any advantage those factors would have provided to you had you gotten into a gun fight.

May 27, 2002, 09:15 AM
00Spy, if you just want to confine it to criminal law, how about the Snake Johnson trial? Thank you Janet Reno!:rolleyes:

CAN be an issue, but, as you say, so can a lot of stuff. Why give the prosecution ammo? However, what you do (or don't do) is much more important.

Byron Quick
May 27, 2002, 09:42 AM
In Georgia, since last July, if someone who does not reside there forcibly enters your home then you are, by law, authorized to use lethal force. Whether the intruder is armed is not relevant.

May 27, 2002, 02:20 PM
Spart, I don't understand your post. What does that have to do with light triggers or a "tuned" gun?:confused:

Byron Quick
May 27, 2002, 06:20 PM

1) The prosecutor in Georgia is not going to be able to make an issue about how you killed a home invader nor with what trigger pull, ammo, or other modifications.

2) It was more of a response to some of the other posts relating to when rather than with what.

May 27, 2002, 06:26 PM
Jim March wrote:...a burglar gets shot in your home, if he can claim you ACCIDENTALLY shot him he can make a claim on your homeowner's liability policy. You really meant his next of kin can make that claim, didn't you?

May 27, 2002, 07:06 PM
Spart, maybe, maybe not. Don't know squat about Georgia.

However, if he or she pursues Manslaughter (reckless) in lieu of Murder (knowing or intentional), then going after your "hair trigger baby-killing Ramboesque assault pistol" is a likely avenue of attack. They can always come after you; that's why we have juries.;)

Double Naught Spy
May 28, 2002, 08:48 AM
KSFreeman, so how about the Snake Johnson trial? Do you have a link to the Snake Johnson trial? I don't know the case. So was the light trigger a central issue? Did it decide the case? I have read about all sorts of claims and other crap being introduced into a trial. That does not mean that they played a significant role in the outcome of the trial. You could argue that based on events in many trials, the fact that a person was in the military that he had been given the training and tools to kill people. So obviously by such worries about going to trial, don't bother trying to defend yourself if you were in the military because that means you are obviously a trained killer, a lunatic with post-traumatic stress living in a delusional world and out of control.

Forget about using hollowpoints as well. Hollowpoints are ammo obviously designed to kill and the use of hollowpoints shows premediation to kill, not just wound or stop a bad person.

Forget about keeping a gun handy for self defense. If you did not have to go out to the safe, do the combination, take out the gun, go to the second location to get the ammo (stored separately), then obviously you were a person laying in wait with a ready gun to shoot the first person you could.

Forget about keeping much ammo at home or more than one or two guns. Five guns and 300 rounds of ammo means you have an arsenal and no law abiding citizen needs or should have that much fire power so obviously a person with such tools of death must be one of those anti-government, militant, paranoid, survival freaks who was just waiting for the chance to kill.

Lawyers can pull all sorts of crap they want to pull like that, but regardless of such non-legal smoke and mirrors, the issue is still going to come down to whether or not the use of lethal force was justified and where it has been justified, then trigger pull weight is not relevant.

Yes, please provide with with a link to the case. If it isn't settled yet, then I stand by my claim that nobody has mentioned any cases so far where the issue of the light trigger has made a difference in the outcome of a criminal trial where somebody was intentionally shot and the shooter was being tried.

May 28, 2002, 03:48 PM
Well, I suspect that I'm in deep doo-doo...

My _black_ (never had it painted) benchrest rifle has a trigger that breaks at 1.5 ounces.

Yup. Ounces.

May 28, 2002, 06:20 PM
My _black_ (never had it painted) benchrest rifle has a trigger that breaks at 1.5 ounces. Just tried to hold that on an electronic scale. That's LIGHT! How much travel?

May 28, 2002, 07:59 PM
I've seen a couple that were just under an ounce. On purpose.

Back to Georgia. Even tho no crime has been committed and so determined by appropriate authority.......you still have the possibility of having to defend your actions in (un)Civil court.


May 28, 2002, 08:34 PM
00spy, the title of the case was State v. Luis Alvarez out of Dade County, Florida from an incident on December 28, 1982. Trigger weight was at issue as Janet Reno's prosecutors made several points about it as it was a Manslaughter prosecution and the Defendant, a Miami police officer, told investigators that someone bumped his arm and the weapon discharged into the face of Nevell "Snake" Johnson, Jr. The Defendant later changed his story to an act of self-defense.

I assume by link you were some computerized transcript of the trial? Don't know if that exists or not. Maybe a search? I do recommend Roy Black's fantastic book "Black's Law" which came out a couple of years ago (I bought mine at a NACDL seminar). Black represented Alvarez at his Manslaughter trial. Ayoob also gives a good short treatment to this case in his "Ayoob Files."

Alvarez was ultimately acquitted, but as every criminal defense attorney knows, it could have gone the other way. Indeed, Black acknowledges this fact.

Trigger weight was an issue (one issue). I don't know how you tell if it played a "significant role" unless you ask the jury after the fact.

Trigger weight COULD be an issue. It depends on the facts of each case.

BTW, I carry two pistol, loaded with hollowpoints, and have 100s of hours of training. Guess I'm in trouble too.:D

Double Naught Spy
May 28, 2002, 09:10 PM
KSFreeman, very cool. I don't know if there is any electronic/internet record, but I will see what I can come up with. Based on what you described, however, charges of manslaughter might have been appropriate for the defendent because he unintentionally shot the person when his arm was bumped. The fact that the gun discharged at that time could have been partially due to a light trigger, but also partially due to the idiot having his finger on the light trigger. That is bad news because he was negligent in his gun handling and had his finger on the trigger of a gun with a light trigger pull. The question that might also come up as to whether he had altered the trigger on the gun from standard to lighter. Of course, that could happen with many hunting rifles people keep for defense that have standard factory light triggers. No doubt that trigger pull weight may come up in cases on negligent discharges which was what was first being argued because the defendent admitted that the gun in his hands discharged as a result of being bumped and the only way the discharge could occur was if his finger was on the trigger. Go figure.

The accidental part of the shoot apparently came when the suspect was held at bay? So the defendent would not have had the right to shoot the person at that time, hence lethal force was not justified. Realizing the stupidity of blaming the error on being bumped, I assume, information was fabricated to say it was a self defense act and as such, trigger weight did not come into play or decide the case because in an act of self defense to protect your life, you can use lethal force. So, the shot was argued not as unintentional, but intentional so save the defendent's life.

If you want to use your 1.5 oz bench rest rifle as a home defense gun and you shoot somebody who has broken into your home, and it is legal to do that where you are, trigger pull weight will not be the issue. The issue of an intentional shooting is whether or not you had the right to use lethal force. Keep in mind that the liability is not in the bullet loaded (hollowpoint, factory, or handloaded), trigger pull, name of the gun, name of the ammo, whether or not you are a trained shooter, but in the use of the intentional use of the firearm itself. If the firearm discharges unintentionally due to modification, negligence, etc., then factors such as trigger pull weight may come into play, but that is for an unintentional shooting.

May 28, 2002, 09:39 PM
00spy, well, at first he denied killing Johnson, then claimed self-defense. You must have some knowledge of the case as in fact he did "alter" his service weapon. I recommend Black's book for more insight.

What you write may be correct depending on the facts presented. Making blanket SD statements is like writing a pre-nup for all 50 states. Just bear in mind that an "unintentional" shooting can be criminally prosecuted in a couple of different ways. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Anticipate trouble and you won't have any.

Double Naught Spy
May 28, 2002, 10:04 PM
Apparently, the issue of trigger weight did NOT weigh too heavily on the minds of jurors. Here is a summary I found from


State of Florida v. Luis Alvarez - Luis Alvarez was a City of Miami Police officer. Officer Alvarez fatally shot a patron of a Miami Overtown video arcade when he moved suddenly as if to go after a weapon. The shooting sparked days of riots, burning and looting. After a 9-week trial, the jury took only two hours to find Officer Alvarez not guilty.


Given that the trial was one of self defense, the suspect making an apparent move for a weapon, the officer was justified in using lethal force. If trigger weight was introduced in this trial as being some sort of factor, obviously the jury realized the ploy and decided the case on whether or not the officer was justified in using lethal force.

May 29, 2002, 10:44 AM
Travel? What travel?

It's a Jewell trigger, and it has a great feel to it.

May 29, 2002, 12:04 PM
Yes, Ayoob warns about deliberately light triggers and homemade ammo. Being highly concerned about legal issues (the forte of LFI) he does address these as POSSIBLE issues that a DA _might_ raise, especially as society further attempts to demonize gunowners. He acknowledges that there have been few (if any) cases involving such issues. His concern is that, being a diligent observer of the legal system, some prosecutor will play the "it wasn't deadly enough for the defendant, so he deliberately took steps to make it even MORE deadly" card...and that making such changes is generally not beneficial enough to warrant taking that legal risk.

I have personally seen Ayoob respond to this issue several times: he makes it clear that it is but one facet of legal concerns to consider, that it has not really been an issue yet, and that the chance of this being a problem is slim - and that he merely presents it for the consideration of his students. He does not absolutely advocate factory triggers & ammo, as many of his detractors loudly decry. The gravity of the issue is far overblown, much to his annoyance.

May 29, 2002, 01:17 PM
Talk about one of those gun myths that just won't die!!!

Double Naught Spy has it. This type of argument has provided Mas Ayoob with twenty years of columns and I venture to say has little to no basis in courtroom law. Strictly a scare tactic from Mas who has a vested interest in selling books, training, and gunzine articles.

Since he has carved out that niche I'm not surprised otherwise credible individuals quote him from time to time.

The idea of reloads, relaxed trigger pulls, or removed magazine safetys have caused shooters to go to jail is ridiculous. I would like to see three actual cases where any of these have been brought up.

This is just to respond to CTDonath: Mas has made a career on just these issues. I remember when he was an unknown preaching about magazine safetys and reloads. Methinks you (or he) doth protest too much. :D

Double Naught Spy
May 29, 2002, 04:24 PM
KSFreeman, what I wrote does appear to be correct for the facts that have been presented. I am not writing a pre-nup for all 50 states. Simply put, nobody has shown me and I have been unable to find a single episode where a self defense shooting went badly for the shooter because of a light trigger. The very case you suggested specifically did NOT go to trial as a manslaughter case where a gun was fired by accident, did it? No, it didn't. It went as a self defense case. In the self defense case, the officer got off clean and very quickly. By the way, that same officer has been up for various awards here in recent years and apparently now is a detective.

So, until somebody can show me a case where a self defense shooting where the use of lethal force was justified, but that it went against the shooter because he had a light trigger, I think I will stand by the concept that light triggers are not a legal problem in criminal law. Either you had the right to use lethal force or you did not. If you did not, then you may have various issues with which to contend as the officer almost did before changing his story to not intending to shoot the guy (manslaughter, exacerbated by a light trigger) to self defense.

May 29, 2002, 06:49 PM
00spy, well, in order to allege a criminal offense, it cannot be an accident. In State v. Alvarez the prosecution alleged that the defendant was reckless. Part of the evidence in support of that contention was the trigger.

Alvarez at first said it was an accident, then later changed his story to self-defense. No one gets off quickly and cleanly at trial. The trial went on for 9 weeks. The estate of Snake Johnson collected 1.1 million dollars because of Alvarez's actions.

Luis Alvarez went into the private security business which he sold to Pinkerton. He became an executive at Pinkerton.

Light triggers MAY be an issue, but like I say it is but one factor and not even in the top ten list.

Double Naught Spy
May 30, 2002, 12:16 PM
A lot of things "may" be an issue. Big whoop. And you are incorrect that criminal acts can not be accidents, at least in the sense of intent. Alvarez initially claimed his gun went off when his arm was bumped and so the contention was that because he had a light trigger, too light to be safe, the bumping of his arm caused him to discharge the gun when he did not intend to do so. For that, he was going to be charged with manslaughter, a criminal offense.

Realizing the stupidity of the claim and the fact that he was going to lose the case for manslaughter because he did in fact have a light trigger and killed a man that he did not intend to shoot, he changed his story to be that it was an act of self defense. I am not sure how he managed that, but he did. For self defense, the only salient factors are whether lethal force was justified or not. Apparently it was and PRESTO, Not Guilty.

Trigger weight WAS an issue when the shooting was unintentional. It was not a salient issue when the shooting was claimed to be intentional. So, for the intitial topic of the thread, self defense, no trigger weight was not an issue.

If the court case of Alvarez is all that Ayoob, you, or anyone else can come up with as a justification that trigger weight is a legal concern for a self defense shooting, and the case did not go against Alverez, then you don't have much ground to stand on.

For an intentional self defesnse shooting, trigger weight is probably as much of a concern to the court case as the color of clothing you are wearing.

If you best self defense gun has a light trigger, why the hell would you hamstring yourself by not using that gun and potentially losing the battle because of a rumored potential legal problem that has never caused a self defense shooting court case go against the shooter when lethal force was justified?

May 30, 2002, 01:34 PM
Making the trigger lighter or using handloads for self defense is pure foolishness, at best, unless you can guarantee that all the jurors & the judge will be fellow shooters. Your actions won't be judged by gun enthusiasts - they may be judged by Sarah Brady's & Clintons. A juror of your peers may consist of people who already think you are a homicidal maniac for even owning a gun. The pond scum lawyers will seize every opportunity to paint a picture of you as someone itching to shoot someone. So will the civil attorneys for the relatives. If you alter anything on your gun or ammo, you will give them plenty of material to work with. Check this out from a final argument of a real trial transcript: "Ladies & gentlemen of the jury: This dangerous violent individual was not satisfied with the trigger on his lethal weapon, so he made the trigger lighter to shoot faster & with more deadly precision to ensure the death of his victim. In addition, he was not satisfied with the lethality of regular sporting or hunting ammunition, so he concocted his own deadlier brew of ammunition & he wanted to test the effect on a human being. Such a person is a clear danger to society."

May 30, 2002, 02:07 PM

Most legal types I know can't tell the difference between an auto or a revolver nor which end the bullet comes out. Unless the shooter tells them he modified the gun or ammo they will never know the difference.

If you really want to worry about something important think about where Elvis is, right now.:cool: